What happens when two celebrated Chicano leaders, whose fight for justice and equality of Mexican Americans is legendary, meet for the first time? This is the topic of this Latinopia Moment in Time.
Ernesto Galarza (1905-1984) is one of the most respected of pioneering Chicano leaders. Born in Nayarit, Mexico, he immigrated to the United States with his mother and settled in Sacramento, California in 1913. He wrote about his early childhood in his acclaimed memoir, Barrio Boy (1971) Though poor, Galarza’s talent earned him a scholarship to Occidental College from which he obtained a B.A. degree in 1927. He later earned a M.A. degree from Stanford University in 1929 and a doctorate in history from Columbia University in New York City in 1944. A labor organizer, historian and community activist, Galarza worked with the Pan American Union from 1936 to 1947, focusing on labor and education in Latin American. An advocate for the rights of farm workers and an organizer for the National Farm Labor Union, he was a leader in one of the first union strikes against California grape growers from 1947 to 1950.. The union’s strike was defeated by unscrupulous machinations between California grape growers and a then up-and-coming California Congressman named Richard Nixon. Galarza wrote about this collusion in his 1970 book Spiders in the House and Workers in the Field. Galarza continued as a social activist, advocating for the rights of Mexican Americans and writing bilingual children’s books until his death in 1984. He was nominated for the Nobel prize in literature in 1976.
Reies López Tijerina was born on September 21, 1926 of migrant farm worker parents in Falls City, Texas. A fundamentalist itinerant preacher, he created the Valley of Peace religious center in Southern Arizona in 1956. At about this time Tijerina learned of many families in the state of New Mexico who had been dispossessed of their ancestral lands. Tijerina had a mystic vision which he interpreted as a calling to move to New Mexico to help the Hispanos there reclaim legal jurisdiction over ancient land grants. In 1962 he formed the Alianza Federal de Mercedes (The National Alliance of Towns) in Albuquerque. His activities soon attracted the attention of New Mexico authorities and in 1967, a public meeting that Tijerina had convened was disbanded by the District Attorney of Rio Arriba County, Alfonso Sánchez. In response Tijerina led an armed assault on the courthouse at the town of Tierra Amarilla seeking to place a citizen’s arrest on the District Attorney for abridging Tijerina’s freedom of expression (see Latinopia Event 1967 Tijerina Courthouse Raid). Tijerina later served time in prison for his activities but by the 1970s was lauded as an advocate for Chicano rights.
This photo of the historic meeting between Tijerina (left) and Galarza (right) was taken on May 5, 1972 when Ernesto Galarza and Reies López Tijerina were invited to speak at the University of California at San Diego. The photo was taken by Dennis F. Hernández who graciously granted Latinopia permission to post it. The tantalizing question that comes to mind: “What are these two Chicano activist leaders talking about?”